Saturday, January 22, 2005

Green tea or bust

Hello all. It sure is nice to be back home, even if Japan is a bitterly cold place, with wind that bites into your bones. I'm happy now though, since I've got both kerosene heaters full, so I don't have to go out in the middle of the night to fill them again, at least for a few days.

Today's J-List post is below. You can also read it on the J-List website or the JBOX.com site.

Japan's current Emperor is Akihito, the 125th ruler in an unbroken line that stretches back for thousands of years. The reign of each emperor has a name, with the current one being Heisei ("peace everywhere"), which started when the last emperor died in 1989. The previous modern eras were Showa ("enlightened peace," 1926-1989), Taisho ("great truth," 1912-1926) and Meiji ("enlightened rule," 1868-1912). Years can be expressed either in seireki (the standard Western calendar) or using the Japanese era dates; for example, this year is Heisei 17, since it's 17th year since of the current emperor. Over time, it's surprising how comfortable you can get with this alternate calendar. I was born in Showa 43 (1968), came to Japan in Heisei 3 (1991) and started J-List in Heisei 8 (1996).

Fawning over Japan's royal family is a national pasttime in Japan, and the media never stop thinking of nice things to say about them. Linguistically, there's a whole level of polite language reserved exclusively for talking about the Emperor and his family, which is of course pretty difficult for foreigners to ever have occasion to learn. In sharp contrast to the U.K., Japan's press practices near total self-censorship when it comes to the subject of the royal family, never publishing anything negative. When Masako-sama, the wife of Crown Prince Naruhito, disappeared from public life for several months only to be diagnosed with clinical depression soon after, the press didn't know how to react to this delicate news. In Japan, to be "right wing" is to love and revere the Emperor and to hark back to the "good old days" of Japan's Imperial glory. Many older Japanese who lived through the war still have pictures of the Emperor in their rooms, and Tomo's grandfather, who fought in the war, used to yell at Tomo when he used the word tenno (Emperor) without using the full title, tenno heika ("His Majesty, the Emperor").

You may be familiar with the Japanese word otaku. A formal word which originally means "you" or "your family," it's come to describe people who go all-out in pursuit of their hobbies. The most famous otaku are the anime otaku, aficionados of Japanese animation, but there are many other kinds of otaku, from military otaku to perfume otaku to train otaku, and so on. There seems to be something about the Japanese psyche that opens them up becoming extra obsessive when it comes to their hobbies. Unfortunately, while foreigners are often happy to use the word otaku to describe themselves as a lover of all things Japanese, I really have to advise against referring to yourself as an otaku front of Japanese people. In Japan, the concept of people getting carried away collecting doujinshi, Zippo lighters, and Disney plush toys is cute, but the idea of being an otaku is not always a positive one -- just as you might not know what to think about a person who boasted about what a "Trekkie" he was. If you're an otaku, my advice is to hide your otakuism from Japanese people until they know you better, and not show it right away.

We're extremely happy to announce that we've finally gotten our stock of Lasonic DVD players in! Once again we've got the small-footprint DVD-800 and the Karaoke-enabled DVD-7880K, in addition to our low-cost half-height DVD-7890 and DIVX-capable DVD-7050. All of these players will play discs from all regions, will allow you to watch PAL discs from Europe or South America on an NTSC (North American) TV, and work great for all your DVD-viewing needs. They're made for the U.S. market and feature one-year warranties too. They ship daily out of our San Diego office!

Here are today's "really cool products" that I thought were especially noteworthy. Note: the J-List links below may be for adult products and should probably be considered "not safe for work." See the JBOX.com site if under 18 or offended by this kind of stuff.

Gamera lives!
Furuta Gamera Figures. When I was 5, Gamera, the radioactive turtle from Japan's movie monster world, was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. I wished I had my own flying Gamera monster for a pet. Here's a very cool toy set from Furuta (one of our favorite companies).
Harumi-chan, you great girl you
Harumi Nemoto - N2. Harumi Nemoto is one of the foremost "sexy idols" (e.g. a girl so sexy that you could probably want to her even with her clothes on). A member of the honorable Yellow Cab talent agency, she wrote a letter to the president of the agency asking to be made a star. He was impressed with her body and gave her a contact.
A really elegant woman...
Sex Evolution -- Mariko Kawana. Mariko Kawana is an adult video actress from Japan, a "jukujo" (lit. ripened woman), a mature woman aged 40, who has had quite a career. Now she's pregant and she's captured her, ah, amazing condition in a very tasteful photobook.
Another interesting sports DVD
Real Amateur Wrestler -- Mizuho Kawasaki. Another "zenra" (all nude) sports production, this features a girl who is supposedly the personal rival of one of the gold medalists of the Greece Olympics. She engages in Western-style wrestling and, ah, some interesting other sports.
Saraba, chikyu yo...
The Battleship Yamato. Okay, here's something bizarre yet cool -- a perfect recreation of the original Battleship Yamato (without Wave Motion Gun), allowing you to see what the great ship looked like when she was fighting during the war. Very nicely done, if a tad expensive.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Still enjoying San Diego

Hello all. I actually did the blog from two days ago yesterday, and so I decided to bump posting the latest update to today.

Today's J-List post is below. You can also read it on the J-List website or the JBOX.com site.

The world has been shocked and awed by the terrible disasters of the Indian Ocean tsunami and before that, by the earthquake in Niigata, Japan, near where J-List is located. Today Japan solemnly marks the 10th anniversary of another terrible disaster, the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which did an incredible amount of damage to the city of Kobe a decade ago. Before the 7.3 magnitude quake struck on the morning of January 17, 1995, Japan had felt pretty secure that they were safe from strong quakes because of their strictly-enforced building codes. However, the nature of the quake and the age of many of the buildings combined to cause a huge amount of destruction, and over 6400 people lost their lives. I had happened to visit Kobe a few months before the earthquake and made friends with the manager of the Old Spaghetti Factory there. Happily, no one at the restaurant was injured in the quake and they reopened soon after.

When a person learns a foreign language they actually develop a second personality, which takes over when they're speaking that language. In Japanese, my personality is very different, and I'm often surprised at how different both halves are. Japanese tend to be humble, and in Japanese you often use the word sumimasen (excuse me) in situations where Americans would say "thank you." My wife is much more assertive in English than she is in Japanese, since English is just built that way -- you always say the subject of sentences and use "yes" or "no" to clearly indicate your opinion, unlike in Japanese where meanings are often more vague and nuanced. It's been very interesting watching the development of an "English personality" in my children, too. In English, my daughter is cute and feminine, since she usually plays with other girls in English, but in Japanese, she's a pure tomboy, even using the male first person pronoun (boku used by boys, instead of atashi which is used by girls).

I'm enjoying my time here in San Diego. As usual, I'm stocking up on things I can't easily get in Japan, like shoes, clothes, and English books. You don't think about things like cough syrup until you live in a country where you can't find the brands you want. Japan is a great place, but the medicines they have are far too weak to work on a big gaijin like me, so I stock up on Nyquil, Alka-Seltzer, and other things I think I might need in the coming months. Soon I'll go back to freezing Japan, but until then I'm getting as much enjoyment out of the balmy San Diego T-shirt weather as I can.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Ah, Sunny San Diego

Hello all. I am still in San Diego, enjoying the January warmth, which until I got here was the January Rain, complete with rain so bad that the San Diego river (usually a laughable thing) was threatening to flood big time. I don't know what all the fuss was about though -- it's lovely here now.

I am having so much fun in San Diego, as usual. Lots of shopping, buying things that I can't get in Japan easily, like shoes, clothes, and good American cough medicine. (You don't think about medicines you're familiar with until you can't buy them easily.) Here are some pictures of our favorite mall in San Diego, Fashion Valley (where the Apple store is, too ^_^). Also, my car in San Diego, the spiffy Miata that I let my mother drive when I'm not in town. Great to be able to drive it with the top down in January.

Today's J-List post is below. You can also read it on the J-List website or the JBOX.com site.

It never fails -- making the hop from Japan to the U.S. is a prescription for reverse culture shock, as I am reminded again of how different the two countries are. The "small" size of frozen yogurt? Ha, it's huge. Even in Southern California with its high population, there are plenty of wide-open spaces that you don't have in Japan. Crossing over from Japan to the U.S. also feels like traveling through a time warp. In some areas, such as cell phones, televisions, and elements of design in electronics and cars, Japan seems to be five years or more ahead of the States. The Sony PSP handheld gaming system is still months away from release in the U.S. and Europe, but I've had mine since November (lucky me).

Duck! Oh! That's! These are examples of some of the more bizarre English that we see daily in Japan. Since all Japanese study six years of English in school (or up to ten years if they study it in college), most people have a general working knowledge of English, even if they can't always communicate fluently. Duck! is the bizarre message a moving company prints on their trucks. Why? It gets attention, I guess. Oh! is the message printed on a warehouse near us, why we're not entirely sure. And That's! is a line of media products, CD-Rs and videotapes, manufacturered in a factory in our prefecture. Every time I go to my dentist I pass a building that says "Splush is not only the problem of age." I've puzzled over this for hours, and I think it means something like "you're never too old to make a splash in life."

For me, studying Japanese has always been great fun, but there are were difficult patches, to be sure. One area that proved challenging for me while I was studying is an interesting category of four-syllable adjectives (the 2nd syllable is a small pause that counts as a syllable in Japanese) that have interesting meanings that can be quite complex. Sokkuri (soh-KOO-ri) is a word that means "to look exactly like [someone else]," so if you meet a Japanese man and his son, and they look very similar to each other, you can point and say sokkuri! and watch their reactions. A similar word is pittari (pi-TAH-ri) which means "it's a perfect fit," so if you're trying to find the right size shirt and you finally find it, this is the word you'd use. Bikkuri (bi-KOO-ri) means "to be greatly shocked" (sometimes Japanese substitute the English word "shock" for this word), and so on. There are about 50 of these words, all with hard to learn but well-defined meanings.